Theater review by Helen Shaw. Bushwick Starr. Book by Joshua Conkel. Music and lyrics by Matt Marks. Dir. Nick Leavens. With ensemble cast. 2hrs 35mins. One intermission.
As we learn from a program note, Joshua Conkel’s gonzo murder mystery, The House of Von Macramé, originated at the Flea’s late-night series-cum-competition, #serials. Suddenly Macramé’s shaggy-dog structure—as well as its attendant longueurs—makes sense. For the show’s long inception, Conkel and cocreator Matt Marks were putting up episodes week to week, crazy-quilting a baroque, soap-opera world full of fashion-snark, drag-queen realness and serial killings. Now at the Bushwick Starr, they sew everything together into a single horror musical—and honey, those seams are sagging and the zipper’s busted.
Granted, much of Conkel, Marks and director Nick Leavens’s material is wonderful and extreme. Exploiting the creepy bond between fashion and horror, the team shows us a kill-or-be-killed New York trapped in its ’80s maximalist moment. Models stomp down runways wearing bonkers couture: One designer’s “Emissions” collection features a hat made of semen. As fellow catwalkers fall to a serial killer, ingenue Britt (Rochelle Smith) intrigues superdesigner Edsel von Macramé (the fabulous Paul Pecorino), and he makes her a star. But is Edsel’s quest for “young blood” something more than metaphorical? Child, yes.
For a certain audience, this is the “bad” we love. Low-fi stagecraft heightens the silliness—as perennial victim Aimee Cucchiaro runs from a stalker, the two thoughtfully trade places on the single treadmill. Marks dishes out a few glorious songs, such as my favorite, “Irrational Gay Hatred.” But for a show this bloody-minded, nobody remembered the editing rule “Kill your darlings.” Absurdity needs momentum, and fierceness abhors lugubriousness. There’s a great 80-minute show inside the two-and-a-half-hour Macramé, but we’d have to cut and cut to get it out.—Helen Shaw